Saturday, 8 December 2018

Tax Dodging

Loughborough University  1  Boldmere St Michaels  2

Midland Football League – Premier Division

I was a tax dodger once, it was great, you didn’t pay any tax, but then again, you didn’t have any money either!

Students, once a source of humour on Soccer AM back in the Tim Lovejoy days, have, over recent years, been a real source of discussion when it comes to non-league football. Allow me to explain.
Universities in the UK have their own competition, the British Universities & Colleges Sport, or BUCS for short. Typically playing on a weekday afternoon, the games are of a high standard, certainly at the top end of the leagues, and of course, for the hopper that doesn’t have to worry about paid employment, they are a good way to pass idle time of an afternoon.

But, the odd University has taken it upon themselves to try and enter the football pyramid, and probably the most famous of these was Team Bath. Based at Bath University, they started life in the Western League, and within less than ten seasons had reached the Conference South. They became the first University side to reach the First Round proper of the FA Cup since 1880, playing Mansfield Town, and on the back of that gained tremendous publicity.

They started out at the University Sports Ground but as they rose through the pyramid, grading requirements meant they had to share at Bath City’s Twerton Park, not that it mattered because they had no fans.

However, it turned out that because Team Bath were not a Limited Company in their own entity, which contravened Conference rules, they were forced to resign, which they did from the non-league pyramid effectively.

The club was controversial in the sense that the squad was made up of both students and semi-professional footballers, and under the freedom of information act it came to light that the wage bill / scholarship payments was not insignificant. Clearly universities are not short of money (taxpayers) so again, this was a real debating point in non-league circles.

Team Bath aside, the other club who have hit the headlines is Cardiff Metropolitan University, who now ply their trade in the Welsh Premier League, the top tier of football in the principality, and if I were a betting man, they’ll qualify for Europe sooner rather than later. Similar questions have been asked about the ‘legitimacy’ of the qualification of players, and indeed the sources of funding.

So, University sides are controversial, quite simply because they are perceived to use taxpayers money to motor through the leagues, but is that really the case? Is it really that simple and straightforward? I’m not sure? It is very much a perception thing, but the perception is not a positive one.

So, Loughborough University FC, a club that started life in the non-league pyramid in recent times playing in the Midland Combination. Nased at the Nanpantan Road ground of Loughborough Dynamo, they won the top flight in 2009 and moved into the Midland Alliance. For a number of seasons they threatened, finishing fourth twice and fifth, but in more recent years it’s been a struggle and they’ve spent much of their time in the lower reaches.

But, when they moved to the purpose built stadium within the grounds of the University, that was when eyes were opened. When I first visited the stadium it was a jaw dropping experience. A huge main stand with a fabulous bar / food area overlooking the pitch is the focal point, but the rest of the ground is terraced on all three sides. It has an electronic scoreboard, floodlights and a quite brilliant playing surface. It really is a showpiece stadium, good enough for hosting football at a much higher level, but my first thought, if I’m honest, was that it was ‘my’ money that helped pay for it!

I’m not being cynical, but whenever you see anything being built on a University complex you immediately think of taxpayers money, like it or not, it’s true. This is definitely the case with the 
Loughborough University stadium.

But, it’s not the universities or students fault that they have access to such huge pots of cash, so no blame can be apportioned to them whatsoever.

They have some very good players, but, I would hazard a guess that the best footballers at Loughborough University don’t play for the football team? Why would that be? Simple really, they are too good, remembering that this is a sporting centre of excellence. I suspect the best players are plying their trade at much higher levels such as the Northern and Southern Premier, and even the National League’s. It’s a better standard and they can probably earn very good money doing so.

I’ve been to the ground a couple of times in the past and enjoyed the experience, despite the fact crowds are not huge, and do tend to get lost somewhat in a stadium of its size. If you pick a strategic place in the bar you can get a view akin to watching from an executive box, so I don’t begrudge them a bit of my tax for that luxury!

The game against Boldmere St Michaels was an interesting one. Christian Eneremadu gave the hosts a first half lead with a well taken goal, but ten minutes into the second period Harry Craven found the net for the equaliser.

The winning goal for Boldmere was a bizarre one. A corner was swung across and completely unchallenged the students goalkeeper, Jake Hilton, who up to now had played very well, inexplicably punched the ball into his own net.

So that was that, three points for the men from Sutton Coldfield while the students will be kicking themselves over the outcome, especially after playing so well in the first half.

My old seat of learning, Keele University, also has a football team playing in the Staffordshire County Senior League. I quite like them, and I’d like to think my overdraft facility that was spent behind the student union bar was what helped them on their way.

You see, I don’t mind spending someone else’s money, like the banks, it’s just I get a bit uptight when people spend mine! I think I need to speak to Harry Redknapp’s Accountant……

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Most Haunted

Thringstone Miners Welfare  5  Cottesmore Amateurs Reserves  1

Leicestershire Senior League – Division Two

I can’t think of many football teams named after haunted houses, but, I think I might have found one!

When doing my research into the Leicestershire village of Thringstone, which sits just beyond Shepshed on the A512, and in all fairness, is more of an extension of Coalville nowadays, I found something unusual out.

Grace Dieu Priory, or at least the ruins of, sits on the village outskirts, by the side of the A512, and is famed for being one of the most haunted remains in the County. The ‘White Lady’ apparition is associated with the Priory, and was once seen waiting for the Ashby de la Zouch bound bus, only to vanish as the bus drew to a halt. Other strange sightings have also been reported, but so far, no ghosts or ghouls have been captured, nor has anyone asked for a day return either.

So what is the connection between Grace Dieu Priory and the football club now known as Thringstone Miners Welfare?

Tracing the clubs history back to 1971, then known as simply Thringstone, they joined the Leicestershire Senior League, winning Division Two at the first attempt. Division One was joined, where they remained until the early Eighties when they had a brief hiatus back in the second tier, albeit for only one season.

Once back in the top flight, now named the Premier Division, they were crowned champions in the successive seasons of 1984 and 1985, but by the end of the decade they were relegated again, only to return after three seasons away.

The FA Vase was entered, with the inaugural season in 1975-76 being the most successful. Victories over Gresley Rovers, Knowle and Anstey Nomads saw them reach the Third Round, only to bow out to Bermuda Working Mens Club. Can’t think what the travel bill would have been for that game, but it probably outweighed the gate receipts……!

So, we move onto 1998, and Thringstone embarked on a merger with, wait for it, Grace Dieu United, spooky eh? The newly formed club became known as Thringstone United, but this version only lasted for two seasons, probably due to hauntings and the need of an exorcism, before they eventually settled for the current title of Thringstone Miners Welfare.

Three seasons later, in 2002-03 they finished bottom of the second tier in the league without winning a single game, and the three points they did get from draws were all deducted. So it wasn’t the best, and beyond that they dropped very much into local football.

But, with excellent facilities in the village, it was only going to be a matter of time before they made their way back, and after a successful season in the North Leicestershire League last time out, they were elected as members of the newly formed Second Division (third tier) of the LSL, along with North Kilworth who I visited back in August.

With seven victories from their opening eleven games, they were well placed in a promotion position before the game against bottom of the table Cottesmore Amateur Reserves, so, it was time to go and have a look.

Thringstone is a doddle of a place to get to, just five minutes from the M1, and once on the main road into the village the ground is tucked into a housing estate on the right hand side. A modest sized car park sits behind the goal, with a modern dressing room and clubhouse facility alongside.

The pitch is railed, it’s also floodlit, and on the halfway line is a small area of cover to provide protection from the elements. It’s far better than the notional Step 9 football it hosts, and subject to getting it right on the pitch, the club have the infrastructure to move a number of levels forward.

On a chilly day, the hosts were much the better side, winning 5-1, and missing chances to have scored a few more. Although to be fair, Cottesmore never gave up, and did create opportunities of their own.
David Leigh netted an impressive hat-trick for Thringstone, while further goals came from Jordan Dent and Joshua Warren. The consolation goal for the Rutland based side came courtesy of Ben Dawson.

And that was Thringstone, the team with links to a haunted house, you can’t say that this blog isn’t educational can you?  I think Yvette Fielding is paying them a visit shortly….

Sunday, 2 December 2018


Bristol Manor Farm  2  Evesham United  1

Southern League – Division One South

I’ll be brutally honest, Bristol scares me.

To be more precise, I’ve got a phobia of bridges, especially driving over them. The Thelwall Viaduct on the M6 in Cheshire increases my anxiety levels every time I journey across it, and in more recent years on our trips to Cornwall and Devon, as you drop down the M5 to the Avonmouth area of Bristol and see the mighty bridge in front of you, I can feel the bricks forming.

But, not only that, if you head into Bristol and decide to cross the Avon further downstream you get the Clifton Suspension Bridge, I’ve never driven over it, but if I did I’d probably need a lie down afterwards.

To try and conquer my fear of the bridge, I did something both brave and stupid in equal measures a few years ago. I had a day off work and decided to head to Cefn Druids. Now, not too far from Cefn Mawr is the Pontcysyllte Aquaduct, a massive 38 metre high structure crossing the Trevor Basin, and you can walk across it, with the narrow boats running alongside.

To paint the picture further, it’s a bit like this. The rail is on one side of the path, and the canal is on the other, but on the canal side of the bridge, there’s nothing, it’s just a sheer drop. No way in this World would you get me across it on a boat, but I decided to walk it.

I managed it, I never let go of the railing, I’d lost all feeling in my legs by the time I’d got to the other side, and when a family approached me in the opposite direction, no way was I letting go, they were going to have to go round me. When I got to the other side I then had to get back, with my weaker arm holding the barrier. Apparently you get superb views of the Acrefair Youth football ground which sits below the bridge, but I don’t recall it, I don’t think I looked downwards!

Some years later, with the fellow Hatt’s in tow we did it again, it didn’t feel so bad this time, but trust me, I won’t be rushing back for the hat-trick.

So, that’s why I’ve kind of swerved Bristol over the years, I worked out that I’ve been four times to watch a football match, and on every occasion I managed to avoid a bridge. I saw Derby at Bristol City in the early nineties, I saw a pre-season friendly at Bristol Rovers a couple of years back, and then I once did a double, watching Almondsbury Town in the morning, and Mangotsfield United in the afternoon, but they were both very much on the bridge free North side of the City.

But, with Bristol Manor Farm being elevated to Step 4 status in 2017, having won the Western League, they fell onto the Hatt radar, and as luck would have it, they had a Friday night game on a day I’d got booked off work, result!

So, what’s the story with Bristol Manor Farm then? A relatively young club formed in 1960, they played local football before joining the Western League in 1977. Within six seasons they’d won promotion to the top flight, and bar a couple of seasons in the early noughties, they remained there ever since. Having finished second, third and fourth in the three previous seasons, a deserved championship was won in 2016-17 under the guidance of Lee Lashenko, and they did it losing just two games.

A mid-table finish last season was a very creditable effort, and the club quite rightly proclaims itself as the third club in the City, a title they battle Mangotsfield United and Yate Town for. Oh, I did go to Yate once, I forgot about that, it rained a lot, otherwise my memory is a bit vague on that one.

I set off nice and early and had a trouble free run from Belper, leaving the M5 with the Avonmouth Bridge just a junction away, and certainly visible in the distance. The A4 Portway takes you straight to the ground, but, you can’t turn right into it, so I had to drive quite a way past and do a u-turn in some queuing traffic. The ground sits right on the banks of the Avon, with the railway line that links Temple Meads and Severn Bridge running between.

The Creek, as it is known, is a super, old school, non-league football ground. You enter behind the goal and then turning to the left you’ve got the changing rooms and large clubhouse running from the corner of the pitch down to the half way line. Three stands adorn this side of the pitch, the first having seats in front of a standing area, the second, further down, is just seats, while finally the third structure is standing only.

Both ends are flat standing while on the far side of the ground which has the railway line running behind it, are the dugouts with a small covered standing area in between. The pitch was in very good condition considering the recent heavy rain, and with a larger than usual crowd of 230 in attendance, with a good number having travelled from Evesham, Friday night football looked to have worked for Farm.

The game was very entertaining. Evesham missed a great chance to take the lead when a penalty was awarded in the seventh minute, despite the fact they found the net moments after the whistle had been blown. Steve Davies saw his effort clip the top of the bar and sail harmlessly in the direction of the nearby sports centre. The referee, Stacey Pearson, allegedly said at half time that she’d made a mistake in not allowing play to go on, which clearly was no comfort to Evesham.

It kicked off in the 33rd minute when Farm’s John Lock and Evesham’s Archie Haskayne were both shown red cards for their part in a skirmish, but then the hosts took the lead just before the break when Owen Howe rifled home from an acute angle.

The visitors equalised just after the break when Cory Simpson produced a clever lob from the edge of the box that drifted over the goalkeeper and into the net. The game ebbed and flowed thereafter, and it looked to be heading for a draw until the 88th minute.

Howe found himself in space, and ran in on goal before slotting the ball calmly under Andy Hannah, showing great composure as he did so. He ran to the crowd to celebrate, the three points looked to be in the bag.

And in the bag they were, on a night when the men from Bristol Manor Farm on the balance of play, probably just about deserved them.

The journey back was a steady one, until a crash right at the top of the M5, less than two miles from my exit, meant we were stationary for just over half an hour. A twenty past midnight arrival home was later than I’d hoped, but such are the trials and tribulations of the UK motorway network.

And not a single bridge was crossed, but it begs the question, can I get to Weston-Super-Mare without crossing the Avon? No, I thought not……..

Saturday, 1 December 2018

The Sorrow Of The Spireite

Chesterfield  1  Bromley  1

National League

A well known football publication recently stated that right now, the worst football team to be a supporter of in the entire UK, is Chesterfield.

Think about it, while never a club to challenge in the top two tiers of English football, they’ve always been something of a yo-yo club that has jumped between the third and fourth tiers, but in between all of that there have been some special moments.

Of course, those of us of a certain age will remember that absolute injustice when in the 1996-97 they beat Nottingham Forest at the old Saltergate to eventually set up an FA Cup semi-final tie against Middlesbrough at Old Trafford. The game memorably finished 3-3, but, a late Andy Morris goal was disallowed, although TV evidence suggested it was a perfectly legitimate goal. The replay was lost 3-0, but history and memories had been made.

We also had the controversial period in the 2001-01 season under manager Nicky Law, when despite a nine point deduction for financial irregularities under then owner Darren Brown (who ended up in prison), the club still achieved promotion to the third tier.

In 2010 the club vacated Saltergate and moved to a new stadium just off Sheffield Road, on the site of the old Dema Glass factory. The B2Net Stadium was impressive, and in the first season at their new home they won the League Two title and gained promotion. The Football League Trophy was won at Wembley in 2012, and despite a relegation in the same season, they went on to win League Two again in 2013-14.

2014-15 season saw the Spireites reach the League One Play-Off’s, only to lose to Preston North End at the semi-final stage, but within two years they had been relegated back to League Tow again, and by now, things were going badly wrong. Under the ownership of deeply unpopular Dave Allen, they finished bottom of League Two last season and found themselves out of the Football League, a competition they have been part of since 1921.

The National League was uncharted territory, and to be fair, the Spireites were going to be a big fish in the pond, with probably only Wrexham being of a similar size in the competition. To guide them back to the Football League, Allen appointed another Allen in the shape of Martin ‘Mad Dog’, a man with much experience at the top tier of non-league football.

Three games in and with a 100% record it looked good, but eighteen games later and they haven’t won since, drawing the last eight games on the bounce. Located in the relegation zone, the fans aren’t happy and the Allen duo are coming under some intense fire.

My first ever visit to Chesterfield came in 1986, I watched Derby County lose a Third Division game 1-0 while on the way to promotion. I stood on the old Cross Street terraces with a few thousand other Rams fans, shoe-horned onto the terraces. It wasn’t the most joyful experience in the World, and neither were the rumbles in the streets outside, but after then I went a few times, normally to watch the Rams in pre-season, but more latterly, working in the town meant I managed to get to a few midweek games, standing on the famously boisterous Kop.

I’ve worked largely in Chesterfield since 1999, so I know the area well and I know several Spireites fans. So when they did make the move to the new stadium the sense of anticipation was huge. The opening game was a pre-season friendly against Barnsley, but the next game that was to test the capacity of the stadium was a pre-season game against Nigel Clough’s Derby County. I had a ticket for the game and witnessed the Rams win 5-4 in a remarkable game.

Since then I’ve only ever seen Derbyshire Senior Cup ties at the ground. I’ve seen Belper play there, and I’ve seen a Final, but also, somewhat unusually I’ve seen a tie take place on a midweek afternoon when Chesterfield and the Rams fielded youth sides. Yes, I should have been at work, but I delayed my lunch break!

I’ve never seen a competitive first team game though, and having a desire to see them play in non-league football, I’d penciled in the game against Bromley on a Tuesday night. I made a point at the start of the season of penciling in a game because I suspected non-league football might only be a one season phenomenon. I got that wrong!

It was a dreadful night weather wise, with persistent heavy rain pretty much all day, most of the non-league football had been wiped out, as did the League Two game at nearby Mansfield Town, but the pitch at the now named Pro-Act Stadium was in superb nick. A quick pint with Steve in the Spireite pub over the road went down well, and with a £16 ticket procured for behind the goal, it was time to have a look.

The stadium is very good, and quite individualistic for a new-build. The two stands down the sides of the pitch are single tier all seaters, with curved roof’s giving them a sense of character. The two stands behind the goals are identical all seaters with flat roof’s. The away fans used to go behind the North goal, but given how many fans National League sides take with them, the away fans are now hosted on the East side in the top corner, there is no point in opening an extra stand.  85 of them travelled from Bromley tonight.

Crowds are very good considering. The club are getting gates around the 4,000 mark, and considering how far they’ve fallen, how dis-engaged the fans are with the club, and also how bad they actually are, the loyalty is remarkable.

They truly are awful. The game itself was pretty dour, and it was the visitors who were sat just a few places above them in the table who took the lead in the 37th minute when George Porter headed home unmarked from a routine cross. Chesterfield lacked confidence, and when the goal went in the crowd started to turn, but not against the players. They know the players aren’t good enough, and that isn’t the players fault, it’s the Manager’s fault for bringing them in. Mad Dog was copping for it!

The second half continued in a similar vein, but with fifteen minutes remaining and the crowd becoming increasingly more hostile, the Spireites upped the ante and showed some more urgency. The tactic of lumping the ball into the box for Tom Denton eventually bore fruit when a hand ball ensued in the 90th minute, allowing Zavon Hines to calmly dispatch the penalty kick.

So 1-1, you could have predicted it weeks ago, that’s nine successive league draws on the bounce and an English record apparently, but one win in 21 games is the more alarming statistic. The bulk of the 3,729 crowd were not happy despite the late point. Boo’s, jeers and chants aimed at the Allen’s rang out, this place is toxic right now, and to be honest, the players confidence is so low, it’s hard to see how they will get out of it.

Stockport County, York City and Torquay United will testify, it’s not impossible to find yourself dropping to the second tier of non-league football. For that to happen to Chesterfield is unthinkable, but right now, a local derby against Alfreton Town next season is not out of the question.

Changes need to happen, and they need to happen quickly, otherwise that forlorn, battered and bitter individual, more commonly known as the Chesterfield FC Fan, is only going to find that life gets worse, before it starts to get better.     

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

A Pint Of Lager (But What About The Crisps?)

Epworth Town Colts  5  Retford United Development  2

Central Midlands League – Division One North

Sheridan Smith OBE is one of the finest talents currently performing on stage and screen.

The 37 year old is famous for her work in shows such as ‘The Royle Family’, ‘Benidorm’, ‘Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps ’ and ‘Gavin & Stacey’. Deserved critical acclaim came Sheridan’s way after starring in ‘Cilla’ and ‘The Moorside’ amongst others, while this year she played a dark yet funny role in ‘The More You Ignore Me’, a film about a Mother and Daughter obsession with Morrissey. Oh, and she can sing, bloody well in fact, having been nominated twice this year for a BRIT Award.

So how the hell have I managed to link Sheridan Smith to a blog report on a Central Midlands League game played in the North Lincolnshire town of Epworth?

Easy really, you see Ms Smith was born and raised in Epworth, and in fact went to school at the South Axholme Academy, which so happens to be precisely where Epworth Town Colts play their homes game. Anyway, back to the football for the time being….

Colts were elected members of the newly formed Division One North at the start of the season, along with fellow Scunthorpe League side, and neighbours, Crowle Colts. With the weather set fair and some positive tweets from the club about the fixture, it was time to make the hour long journey via the M1, M18 and M180 to the Isle of Axholme.

Upon arriving at the Academy, around an hour before kick-off, I was in something of a muddle. You see, if you wander from the car park round the North edge of the campus you find some sports pitches, one of which was marked out for football, complete with corner flags, ‘Respect’ tape and warm up cones on the surface. That all boded well for what was about to happen, except, I couldn’t see anyone, there was no sign of any life whatsoever? I had a wander down the side of the college and found nothing, so went back to the car park.

It was then that I saw a chap wandering about with a sports bag over his shoulder, but he also had the tell-tale sign of wearing a tie, this, quite simply, had to be the referee. I chose to follow him, he ended up in the sports centre next door, and as he came out of the building looking somewhat bewildered, I decided to engage in conversation.

He was indeed the referee, he too was lost and confused, but he had been pointed in a specific direction for the changing rooms and such like, so, I followed. It was just as we approached a building that had a plaque with the clubs name on it visible through the window, that we saw Retford United running out onto the pitch to warm up. With no refreshments available, it was time for a quick walk down the road to the White Bear, but, more on that later.

Epworth went into the game with a won four, lost four record, but, last weekend they too a right slamming in the cup at Bakewell Town, losing 11-0. Retford on the other hand sat fourth from bottom with only two wins this season, but one of them came last weekend when they won 9-1 against AFC Bentley. If anything it suggested goals!

The pitch sits at the very back of the complex, lined on two sides by tall trees, with housing on a third side and the college buildings on the fourth. The dressing rooms are a good distance away and that may hold back the clubs progression in years to come.

Otherwise, on a lovely Autumnal day, we were treated to an entertaining spectacle, which saw the hosts take a two goal lead, before visiting Retford equalised straight from a corner. Epworth then scored a third goal, and in the process of this the Retford goalkeeper suffered an injury and couldn’t continue.

This was pivotal, because almost straight from the kick off Epworth scored a fourth goal, followed by a fifth to leave the half time score an incredible 5-1.

Retford steadied the ship somewhat in the second period and did pull another goal back, but Epworth also saw substitute Billy Ball dismissed following his involvement in an on-field altercation that at one point looked like it could get out of hand.

No more goals followed, but it ended up being a deserved three points for the hosts. Noel Burdett was the Epworth hero, netting a fine hat-trick, with the other goals coming from William Gravil and Harrison Coley.

So, onto the pub, The White Bear, a lovely venue, a short meander from South Axholme Academy itself, but let me describe the conversation…

“Can I have a pint of lager, and a packet of cheese and onion crisps please?”

I was met with..

“I’m sorry sir, we don’t do bar snacks.”

What? No bar snacks? Call yourself a pub?

Sheridan, next time you are back in Epworth you need to use your influence, can you nip in and have a quiet word in someone’s ear? It’s just not  the Archer under Runcorn Bridge is it?

Sunday, 25 November 2018


Farnborough  2  Gosport Borough  1

Southern Football League – Premier Division South

For a relatively young football club, Farnborough has a history that could warrant a fairly lengthy book written about them.

Formed in 1967 as Farnborough Town, they started life in the Surrey Senior League, before moving into the Spartan League in 1972. By 1976 they were in the Athenian League, and within a season they’d been accepted to the Isthmian League. In less than ten seasons that was quite a rise.

The New Stand - Modest!
The First Round Proper of the FA Cup was reached seven times in the Eighties, but in 1989 they were admitted to the Conference after they finished runner-up to Leytonstone & Ilford who didn’t have the requisite ground grading. Relegation followed immediately but after one season in the Southern League they were crowned champions and returned to the Conference.

They survived for two more seasons, but hit the headlines in the 1991-92 season when victories over Halesowen Town and Torquay United took them to the Third Round of the FA Cup and a home draw with West Ham United. The game was switched to Upton Park and Farnborough held on for a famous 1-1 draw. The replay, also at Upton Park, saw them lose 1-0.

Crowned champions of the Southern League at the first attempt, they were back, this time for a five season stint. When that came to an end they were relegated to the Isthmian League, where they remained for two seasons until bouncing back.

The Far Side
They hit the national headlines in their second season back (2002-03) when victories over Harrogate Town, Southport and Darlington saw them reach the Fourth Round of the FA Cup, and with it came a dream home draw against Arsenal. Controversially, the game was switched to Highbury (the rules allowing clubs to do this were subsequently changed) and on the back of a huge pay day, they went down 5-1 to the Premiership giants.

It all started to go wrong after that. Graham Westley who was Manager, left to join Stevenage Borough, taking the bulk of the team with him, and two years later they were relegated to the Conference South.  In 2006-07 the club went into administration and were deducted ten points, but by the end of the season they were expelled from the Conference and reformed as Farnborough FC.

Main Stand
They were admitted to the Southern League Division One South & West which was won at the first attempt, while just two years later they were champions of the Southern League Premier Division and found themselves back in Conference South.

They missed out on promotion to the top flight of non-league football after a defeat to Ebbsfleet United in the Play-Off Final, but then it all started to go wrong again, lessons had seemingly not been learned. By the start of the 2011-12 season they had been deducted five points for providing misleading financial information to the Football Conference. The following year the club was once again in administration and were deducted the statuary ten points, which ultimately saw the club relegated. They were then demoted to Step 4 due to the clubs dire financial situation, but the following season they bounced back, and as of today, they sit at Step 3, playing in the Southern League Premier Division South.

Away End
Wow, that’s some history, and what a rollercoaster ride it’s been for the club and its supporters. They’ve seen more things in fifty years than some clubs have seen in double that time. Right now, the club appears to be on a stable footing under the Chairmanship of Simon Gardener and the CEO Rob Prince.

The first team is managed by Spencer Day, who himself is a colourful character who you may remember for being the nineteen year old who ‘saved’ Aldershot in 1990 when he was known as Spencer Trethewy. The story is well documented since, he’s also served time behind bars, but then gone on to become a hugely successful businessman,  initially he was involved with Chertsey Town, but now he is very much part of the fabric at Cherrywood Road.

Now then, Cherrywood Road, what an incredible stadium it is!

Looking Impressive
My journey from Milton Keynes was somewhat stop / start on the M25, but once on the M3 it was an easy run to the ground. The large car park leads you to the turnstiles, and once inside you are quickly hit by the magnificence of a stadium that is fit to host games in the Football League.

The focal point is the recently built seated stand that sits behind the right hand goal and can hold over 1300 spectators, while the Main Stand has been extended in recent years with executive facilities to the rear, and this can seat around 650.

Opposite is a stand that has been split into half terrace and half seating (for 1064 fans), while behind the opposite goal is some terracing that serves as an away end should segregation be required. This can hold just short of 2,000 spectators. The overall capacity is 7000, but with crowds averaging around 250, and even in the halcyon Conference days they were getting around a thousand, you do feel, in the nicest possible sense, that it might be a bit big for them?

Anyway, it was superb, and with a large sized clubhouse, very good club shop and excellent catering facilities, I couldn’t find fault with it at all.

Down The Touchline
So what about the game? Well, it won’t rank highly in terms of entertainment to be fair. Two mid-table sides battled it out on a cold night, and it was the hosts who took the lead in the ninth minute when Connor Cullen squeezed the ball home from a tight angle.

Despite going down to ten men in the second period, it was Gosport who found the equaliser when a free kick was only half cleared, allowing Tony Lee to rifle the ball home.

Just as the game was about to go into injury time, Farnborough got the all-important third goal when Marc Charles-Smith scored at the far post. Five minutes of added time was played, but the hosts hung on for a battling, if not pretty, three points. 203 spectators were in attendance, with a small number travelling up the A3 for a game that could be termed a Hampshire Derby.

The Away End - Up Close
So, as football in Farnborough moves into its 51st season, you do wonder what the next few years has in store. One can only hope they can find some sort of stability, while at the same time they continue to do the great work they’ve been doing with the local community, in order to help lift attendances.

One thing is for sure, they certainly don’t want to be seeing any more boom and bust, they’ve had enough of that to last a lifetime!

Match highlights link below, from Farnborough FC website

Saturday, 24 November 2018

Two Fat Ladies

Charlton Athletic  5  Mansfield Town  0

FA Challenge Cup – First Round Replay

My two Grandma’s were wonderful people.

Chalk and cheese in many ways, but so alike in others. They developed a close bond with each other, and every year, until it became impossible, they would have a week’s holiday in Blackpool, staying at the Sheraton Hotel.

The holiday used to be made up of food and drink, trips out, shows and of course bingo. My Grandma on my Dad’s side was a bingo fanatic. Of course, both of them loved a laugh, and my Dad and Uncle spent many a Christmas poking harmless fun at them as we sat around the dinner table on the 25th, as was tradition.

It was one Christmas while we were playing bingo, that the caller (it may have been my Mum), cried out, “Two fat ladies, eighty eight”

Under his breath, one of the aforementioned men, responded with “Two fat Grandma’s”, which was met by chuckles from those of us within earshot. I seem to recall a stern glare from the bingo caller, while one of the Grandma’s piped up with “What are you lot laughing at?”. We quickly moved on…

I remember, again it would have been around the time when my passion for football was growing by the day, that I asked my Dad who had the biggest ground in the Football League, and his answer surprised me, for I was expecting either Old Trafford or Anfield.

The Site Of The Old Terrace
Charlton Athletic was the answer, apparently, holding 75,000 spectators. The Valley was a huge arena with a massive terrace that spread all the way down one side of the ground.  It didn’t last though, as following a financial crisis and subsequent administration, the new ‘phoenix’ club didn’t have ownership of the stadium, so in 1985 they left the Valley and embarked on periods ground sharing at both West Ham United and Crystal Palace. The club reached the top flight of English football, despite it’s problems, very soon after the club were reformed, and by 1991 work had begun on redeveloping the Valley following its acquisition, which in itself was a highly political process.

Following relegation, the club returned to the Premier League in 1998 after the epic Play Off Final against Sunderland, and remained there for one season before relegation, however they quickly bounced back and were top flight then until 2007. Since then they’ve moved between the second and third tier of English football, but in the period since getting back to the Valley, the ground has been redeveloped superbly into a 27,000 capacity stadium, which during the Premiership years was always full to capacity.

I never ever got to see a game at the Valley though, but, as luck would have it, with a two night stay in Milton Keynes on the horizon, the Addicks managed to draw their FA Cup First Round tie at Mansfield Town, so the replay was scheduled perfectly to allow a visit.

Jimmy Seed Stand
Tickets were on offer at just £15, so the whole thing had fallen nicely into place. The journey through heavy rain was going perfectly well until I reached the Blackwall Tunnel, and I have to say, I’m just glad that doesn’t form part of my daily commute, what a nightmare it is getting through that at tea time!

Once through and past the O2 Arena, it was a left turn towards Woolwich and some pre-researched street parking was found with ease. I’d arrived early so went in search of sustenance, and that came via a five minute walk up a hill which took me to Charlton Village, a very nice area with a busy main street housing pubs, cafĂ©’s and restaurants. It was certainly a very different area than that I’d parked in, and also something of a contrast to the general vicinity around the Valley.

Fed and watered, it was time to walk back down the hill, with fantastic evening views of the brightly lit Canary Wharf and the City. With a crowd of less than 2,000 expected at the game, it was fair to say that it wasn’t especially busy around the stadium, and the fact it was tipping it down was never going to drag the casual punter out of the front door.

The Valley is impressive, the old Jimmy Seed stand sits behind the West goal and housed the 300 or so who had travelled from Mansfield, while the rest of the ground is effectively one structure that runs round three sides. The only area open to home fans was the lower tier of the main stand, with the East goal tall and empty. What was the old South terrace is now a sharply banked single tier of seating, a far cry from the days when it was the single biggest terrace in English football.

Tickets Available
The game was an interesting one played in an atmosphere that reminded me of a Youth Team game. It was a case of ‘take your pick’ when it came to the seats so I chose the padded ones in front of the executive boxes!

Charlton took the lead through the impressive Lyle Tyler in the eleventh minute, but to be fair, Mansfield had plenty of chances to find parity, but just lacked a touch of composure in the penalty area to find the back of the net.

Taylor netted a second goal just after half time and then a third goal arrived through Mark Marshall with ten minutes to go, albeit in controversial circumstances when Mansfield shaped up for a free kick that they thought had been awarded to them, only to see it go the other way with the team completely out of place.

Taylor then scored his hat-trick goal with a sublime chip, before Nicky Ajose got the fifth goal for Charlton in injury time. 5-0 was probably a bit harsh on the Stags who’s first half performance must have given them hope of getting something from the game.

Take Your Pick
Escape from the general  vicinity from the Valley was easy, and the Blackwall Tunnel at 10pm was not an issue. The rain continued to pour though and the driving up the M11 and round the M25 with the various European number plates having no idea of the Highway Code was enough to keep me on my guard. Milton Keynes was reached just after 11pm, and ground number 88 had been chalked off in terms of doing the 92.

And we go the full circle, with this being ground 88, it just reminded me of those two lovely Grandma’s of mine.  They both quite liked football, and both of them were around when Derby County won the FA Cup in 1946, and who did they beat, Charlton Athletic of course….